Someone has been sitting in my chair!

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This year marks my 40th year being a ‘paid’ church musician.  I’m not quite Methushelah but, I admit, I started my career in music as a young teenager when phones were fastened to the wall and screen time meant playing with Etch-a-Sketch.  I have spent more time in church than I care to admit.  If  I wasn’t sitting on the organ bench practising and waving my arms leading a choir, I sat in a pew supporting my husband, an Anglican priest for over 50 years who’s now retired.

While I have had some long term church gigs, I was and still am a musician for temporary hire – a substitute while the church is looking for a permanent musician or when their regular church musician is away.  This has worked well for me because I’ve also worked for many years as a music producer for CBC, and because I love the freedom this arrangement offers.  I like taking the temperature of churches of all denominations,  working with the choir, and seeing how they worship.  And because of how church has changed during these years, I feel compelled to jot down these musings. It’s NOT to pour gasoline on the conversation ‘This is why I don’t go to church’, but rather it’s to start a dialogue on how churches can address some long standing assumptions and create a safer and more welcoming space for those that want to venture inside a sacred building for the first time.

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And one major problem has to do with the question of where it’s safe to sit.  No matter how many times I step through the doors of a ‘new to me’ church, I feel a certain angst in the pit of my stomach because I’m pretty sure I’ll set my keister down in a spot that will make someone mad.  It actually begins as I pull into the parking lot and wonder:  “Where do I leave my car without ticking someone off?”

You think I jest?  I remember the day I pulled into one church’s parking lot years back, and a few parishoners greeted me not with “Hello” or “Welcome” but “YOU CAN’T PARK HERE.  This is where so and so usually parks.”  I didn’t see a reserved sign, but nodded and moved my car, despite feeling sorely tempted to drive away, pick up a copy of the New York Times, and go home to listen to ‘The Sunday Edition on CBC’.  But because my husband was a guest preacher at the church, and it was a rare Sunday when I wasn’t playing somewhere,  I wanted to support him.  But it was hard for me not to burst out laughing with my distinct cackle when I saw their faces at coffee hour after my husband had introduced me as his spouse!   It doesn’t now surprise me to learn that the church is struggling with poor attendence.

After I think I’ve found a safe spot to park my car, my next dilemma is where can I sit. T-T-15777-Goldilocks-and-The-Three-Bears-Someones-Been-Sitting-in-my-Chair-Speech-Bubble

I love cosying up to a pillar if there is one, or finding a good back seat for easy escape.  Trouble is, I can never guess which seat is ‘free’.  People are creatures of habit.  They like their tea a certain way at a given time.  They usually take the same route to work unless there is a collision.  And they sit at the same dinner place.  It only stands to reason that they also like ‘their’ spot in church.   But think about it.  How is a guest suppose to know that it is taken?  B8xRcePCQAAUhaN It doesn’t even matter if the sanctuary is almost empty.  Some months ago I checked out a church that I was going to supply at for a stint.  I wanted to get a feel for the flow from a congregates point of view.  I arrived early to hear the prelude to see how the organ sounded …was it too loud, soft, where does the choir stand, etc….  There wouldn’t have been more than 15 people there when I arrived.  I bravely plopped myself into a pew, and hoped I was safe.  But a few minutes later, a woman walked down the centre aisle and before she too sat down, she asked another parishoner if this was Lucy’s spot.  Eaves dropping, I learned that Lucy had moved up north to be near her daughter – and probably would never be back.

Things get a little odder when I tell you about another church where my mom went for the first time to hear me play her favourite piece.  Again, it was at a church where you could play throw and catch without fear of hitting someone.  “YOU CAN’T SIT HERE!” scolded a rather officius “force to be reckoned with” individual.   “That’s Josey’s seat”.  The elderly woman, who was perched next to the woman advising my mom on her seating plans, said, “Yes dear. Josey died a few year’s ago but we like to keep it free in her memory.” 8290bfd59d0bf0ae19fabfcf7ff27018--angel-s-angel-wings

Does this happen in your church?  Do you know?  Do you care?  You should, because most congregations treat newcomers the same way.  So  I ask you: clergy, board members, congregants, how do you plan to change your church culture to create a safe and inviting place for everyone? How do you plan to address the stink eye that prevents people from being welcomed and comfortable to sit where they want.  I have some ideas – but what are yours?  Time to start talking, folks, or more churches will be putting up “for sale” signs, and will only have the invisible Josey’s left sitting in the pews.

 

 

 

 

Carry it On – Appalachian Traditional Performed by Cantores Celestes and the Foggy Hogtown Boys Conducted by Kelly Galbraith

Themes & Variations by Musician & Producer Kelly Galbraith

Arranged by J. David Moore and The Foggy Hogtown Boys

from the recording: ‘The Circle Never Ends’
Cantores Celestes Womens Choir
Kelly Galbraith, Director
The Foggy Hogtown Boys
Kelly Galbraith, Producer

http://www.cantorescelestes.com
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http://twitter.com/Cantores_Choir

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http://kellygalbraithblog.com (Themes & Variations)

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For Monica – Please sign up to become a donor – beadonor.ca

Please share this video to help others. Lives depend on it. YOU can make a difference. Thank you!

Themes & Variations by Musician & Producer Kelly Galbraith

Cantores Celestes Women’s Choir in Toronto directed by Kelly Galbraith
PLEASE, please SHARE! Help us get the word out how important it is to sign up to be a donor. 50 Cantores Celestes members sang on Sat Nov 23rd for their friend and chorister sister, Monica Parfitt who has been at the Toronto General Hospital for 6 months awaiting for a heart donation. I would so appreciate if you would share this video with your friends to help Cantores Celestes spread the word about organ donation. Our dear friend and singer has been on the transplant list for a very long time and is very ill. We sang for her and her family on Sat morning so she could be surrounded by our love and the music she loves. This audio was taken from a simple iphone but the message comes through none the less. Thank you from the bottom…

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Saint Michael and All Angels – A Musical Journey

Music for St. Michael and All Angels – Sept 29th John Milton
“Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep”.

Themes & Variations by Musician & Producer Kelly Galbraith

A woman I know really well, who isn’t prone to flights of fancy, told me that an angel appeared to her during the night to reassure her that the problem she was wrestling with would be solved the next day.  She was wide awake and lying in her bed when a man suddenly appeared.  He didn’t look like the portraits you see of the Archangel Gabriel holding a trumpet and sporting a huge set of wings.   This mystical being was an average looking fellow with sandy coloured hair and wearing typical casual street clothes.  “Don’t worry.  It will all work out.”  was his message and then, he vanished.  She wasn’t afraid, and true to his word, the next day, the problem resolved.

I am not a New Age philosopher.   Yet I too have had an experience that could only be described as divine intervention.  It was 30 years ago and I remember it…

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The Many Faces of Mary – A Choral Journey

For those of you that are interested in great choral music be sure to check out the Arvo Part work.
It is worth the click!

Themes & Variations by Musician & Producer Kelly Galbraith

Eve and Mary by Sr. Grace Remington, O.C.S.O

Having grown up a Baptist I was not one of one of those little girls that went to bed with prayer cards of the Virgin Mary on my night table and a rosary around my lampshade. My first paying gigs were as organist at United and Anglican churches so there were no icons of the BVM anywhere. When I was a first year music student at Mount Allison University,  I had an opportunity to conduct Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater‘ (which is featured later in this post). That was the beginning of my love affair with choral music and a fascination with the symbolism and beautiful music written in Mary’s honour.

Studio del Magnificat in canto gregoriano, Schola gregoriana Mediolanensis   

tumblr_mf93vmXE1V1qa2fuyo1_500 Most little girls who have been involved in Sunday School Pagents long to be the child that plays Mary by putting on the blue terry cloth robe and clutching a baby Jesus doll.  I…

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The Impossible Dream – By Not The Church Lady AKA Kelly Galbraith

Most musicians practise hours every day from the time they are children.  Their desire is to make beautiful music and if possible, pay their bills.  All musicians (except one) own their instrument.  They make reeds for it and know what embouchure it needs to make lovely sounds.  Pianists know how much weight they need to use on the keys to produce beauty and string players just how much pressure to apply when tuning.  Alas!  The one musician that doesn’t own their instrument (unless of course they win the lottery and buy their own church), is the organist!  This is what I carry in my purse, a set of keys.  And armed with a list of church entry codes, I can gain access to the kingdom, in this case, a sanctuary to practise.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, my organ shoes do travel!  Being a musician for hire and a substitute organist for most of my life, I NEVER know what awaits me when I enter the building.  The first obstacle is to figure out how to turn the instrument on.  Believe me when I say, this is not usually obvious.  Sometimes breaker switches need to be reset. Other times, it is a combination of switches and mystical chants that bring it to life.

I played my very first church service when I was probably about 12 or 13 years old.  It was my debut and I was excited and eager to have an opportunity to play music that I had spend hours practising.  This pipe organ was old and in need of repair but it chose THIS very service, packed to the rafters to offer up its swan song.

I started the intro of the opening hymn and a rumble grew to a piercing wail  that could only have had its origins from the depths of Hades and choir of banshees echoed through the church.  Then all of the 8 foot and 4 foot pipes stopped working and only the 16 foot and Mixtures offered their voice.  What does that mean in laypersons’ terms?  It would be the equivalent of Paul Robeson and Tiny Tim singing a duet for 1 hour.

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At 15 years of age, I played my first wedding.  It was held in a little country church with a pump organ.  The pedals kept sticking  and  the soloist had to crouch down in her finery and manually heave and push those pedals during the processional.  Also the bride had insisted on having the Wedding March as the recessional.  How was I to know that this organ didn’t have enough keys to play the tune?

During high school years, I played an organ whose manufacturer’s claim to fame was building farm equipment…enough said on that.   Another instrument I played kept making rude sounds from the bellows like it had eaten something that disagreed with it and all that was missing was the accompanying smell.

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I learned later from my Mt. A professor that when I graduated, they had to repair the University organ. I wore the poor thing out. I loved that chapel organ and kept it company for 9 hours a day learning repertoire from  French Classical, German Baroque, French Romantic and the English school.  I used technique that would serve me well if ever I had the good fortune to play a tracker instrument (considered by many to be the Bentley of organs).

While pursing graduate studies, it was still assumed by teachers and fellow students alike that we would someday play instruments worthy of the masterpieces that we were learning.

Surely you ask, “You have played in well over 100 churches.  There must be some good instruments!”  My friends,  I can count on 1 hand the instruments that made be blush with joy and giggle like a school girl.  Now I view it as a challenge to coax music out of these sick instruments.  Churches don’t have the money or interest to invest thousands, and often hundreds of thousands of dollars into their up keep, especially when in danger of closing.  A good pipe organ can easily set a congregation back one million dollars.

This past Sunday, the organ I was playing died twice in the middle of the service. So much for the hours spent on my Offertory and Postlude I thought as I made my way down to the piano thumbing through the hymn book for tunes to improvise on.

I think the hardest thing for church organists is that they have the ability and desire to make beautiful music but the opportunities just don’t present themselves very often.  A dear friend of mine recently asked me if I thought I would someday make music with an instrument that I loved.  I guess it depends on how long my organ shoes still want to travel.  I am an optimist and of course, I keep looking out my window for flying pigs!

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